Ask the Pro: Qualification for Satellites

In 2003, a man aptly named Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP main event. This prestigious event had been won many times before but that year it was special; Moneymaker was special. He was the first person to ever win that coveted bracelet and a $2.5 million first prize, after qualifying for the event playing in an online satellite. In fact whilst most people were ponying up the $10,000 buy-in Moneymaker managed to qualify for the event for a measly $40.

Moneymaker became an instant role model and people flocked to online poker sites in their droves to become the next millionaire. Satellite qualification is big business, causing the fields and prize money in big buy-in events to get bigger and bigger. Even if you are not lucky enough to weave your way through thousands of people in order to take down the event, if you are a poker lover, it is your opportunity to mix it up with your idols.

For a long time the name online qualifier was synonymous with the rags to riches tale. These days all of that has changed. The very best pros in the business use the satellite system to qualify for the big buy-in events in order to keep their costs down. Some of them have actually become very proficient at it indeed, but how do they do it? What are their secrets?

Three people, all with different methods, share theirs with you.

Martin Jacobson, EPT Season Seven Online Qualifier of the Year

The greatest thing about satellites is that it gives anyone a chance to compete in a tournament they most likely cannot afford to directly buy into. It gives an opportunity for someone to take a shot at the big bucks with a small investment, but it also increases the value of the tournament with more inexperienced players in the field. The prize pool also gets bigger and that is certainly in everyone’s interest.

I’d like to admit that it’s thanks to satellites I’m playing poker full time and been doing so for almost three years now. It all started back in 2008 when I registered for a last chance satellite to EPT Budapest. It was the first satellite for that stop on the tour that I had played and also the very last chance to win a package. I remember it had 44 players and only one package but after a couple of hours I had sealed the deal and began packing for Budapest! I had very little live experience back then, in fact this was just my 3rd live tournament worth mentioning.

After four long days of play I finished third out of more than 500 players. I’m still not sure how it happened, but it did, and it gave me a chance to spend more time to learn the game and gain experience while playing.

If you feel like the buy-in for a certain satellite is too high then don’t worry. Most satellites have something called super-satellites, which are basically satellites that win you a seat into the main satellite. These can start for less than $1, and you can work yourself up through different rounds until you finally qualify for the final satellite that often has a buy-in of $500.

Another popular form of satellite, and my particular favourite, is the step system. Every step consists of a single table tournament where usually the players in the top two spots advance to the next round. Even if you do not qualify, there are consolation prizes in the form of new step tickets. You can begin from any step you want or start grinding from Step 1, where the buy-in is just $7.50, and try to work your way to the final Step 6 where the buy-in is $2,100.

I encourage everyone to try and satellite your way into one of the big live tournaments because it really is a great experience and it gives you the chance to change your life.

Nicolo Calia, EPT Regular and Serial Casher

There is a big difference between one-table satellites, called sit n go’s, and multi table tournament satellites (MTT). Normally I like to play MTT satellites and I have my philosophy when playing in these.

The starting stack sizes for these types of satellites are not very big and so my strategy is to save chips and play only AA, KK (from all positions) or AK, QQ (from the cut-off and button). This strategy requires a lot of patience – easy to say and to write – but far more difficult to practice.

Many players find it impossible to sit and wait patiently for these types of hands. It is not easy avoiding playing a hand for 60-90 minutes but this is the strategy that has been very successful for me. A good player knows that they will not be card dead in-definitely. Another important point is observation – knowing who to attack and when. Normally it is useful to avoid the bigger stacks, but in these satellites I often get my stack in against big stacks for two reasons: the first is because they can lose chips without fear of being eliminated and secondly because they start to believe they are invincible.

These simple rules (personal and suited to my character) permit me to obtain my goals. I am not interested in finishing first, I only want to obtain the free seat for the main event, and so, when I think that my stack is of sufficient size for me to attain this goal I don’t play a hand – not even AA or KK!

Mathew Frankland, EPT Berlin and Deauville Cashes Season Seven

I personally think that the Pokerstars 3x Turbo qualifiers are the best things in the world! They are really easy to find as well: just clear your filters and type "3x" into the search bar and you will find these qualifiers. You can qualify for anything from UKIPT’s to EPT Grand finals in this manner, and if you get the strategy right it is probably one of the cheapest tickets in town.

Basically, the idea with these things, is that you start with 3,000 chips for €20 (using an EPT satellite as an example) with 5-minute levels. After the first 90- minutes there is an add-on period, where for the same €20, you get a whopping 30000 chips! So it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where the value is in these things. But it doesn’t stop over half the field failing to make the add-on period in almost every one I play in, and this is because the blind levels are 5,000/10,000 at the end of the rebuy period.

I don’t really see the point in gambling before the add-on period, since the add-on is worth so much more than the initial value of the chips. My aim is to reach the add-on period as cheaply as possible. I am not going to win a seat as often as people that go crazy in the rebuy period, but I am going to get the seats that I do win for a much cheaper price on average, and that is what we work with in poker – long term averages. Since I want to get in for as cheaply as possible I leave registration until the very last minute. When I do finally start playing, I hardly play a hand, because the value of the chips is 1/10th the value of the majority of chips that will end up in play (add-ons usually account for about 50% chips in play). The value of winning chips per the add-on means each chip only has a value of 1/5th the value of the "average chip price" of a chip in play, so my range pre add-on is limited to around TT+ AQ+ for open shoving, and I call off my chips in the blinds when I’m getting a price I can’t really refuse.

On top of doing this I time out EVERY SINGLE HAND. Obviously if my aim is to reach the add-on period for the cheapest possible amount then the more time I can waste the better. The only exception to this is when I get close to the add-on period where I try to fold quicker/slower in order to be on the button after the add-on. This takes some practice but you’ll get used to it after a few attempts.

After the add-on period, it’s really easy to play, just work on your positional shoving ranges in turbo’s, which will be the same for any low stakes buy-in turbo, and you can’t go wrong. There is pretty much no ICM to consider in these things because there’s usually only 1 seat up top so after the add-on period just play for the win!

This article first appeared in Bluff Europe magazine.